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Man As Witch: Male Witches In Central Europe


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Man As Witch: Male Witches In Central Europe


This chapter first argues that early modern theorists were unperturbed by male witches because they were already familiar with them in the guise of ancient and medieval heretics and sorcerers. The second argument concerns the feminisation of the witch. A man accused of being a witch was implicitly feminised. In one sense, this feminisation lends support to Stuart Clark's argument for a binary structure underlying the gendering of witchcraft. On the other hand, it cautions us against allowing that binary structure to become too rigid to accommodate flexible gender constructions. The chapter demonstrates that the lack of a conceptual barrier to the idea of male witches can be explained in part by witchcraft theorists' familiarity with various ancient and medieval prototypes. It further addresses the question of what it meant, in conceptual terms, to label a man as a witch within a framework that both explicitly and implicitly feminised witchcraft.


In France, scholars have found that with increased fiscal capacity and a stronger central government, the witchcraft accusations began to decline.[46] The witch trials that occurred there were symptomatic of a weak legal system and "witches were most likely to be tried and convicted in regions where magistrates departed from established legal statutes".[47]


The killing of people who were suspected of performing malevolent sorcery against their neighbors continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. In 1997, two Russian farmers killed a woman and injured five members of her family because they believed that the woman and her relatives had used folk magic against them.[37] It has been reported that between 2005 and 2011, more than 3,000 people were killed for allegedly being witches by lynch mobs in Tanzania.[57] Witchcraft was officially a crime in Papua New Guinea from 1971 until 2013.[58]


Elizabeth: One long-held kernel of historical wisdom that is no longer supported is the argument that male witches were accused in small numbers. The agreed-upon numbers state that 75-80% of people charged with witchcraft were female. As far as we know in absolute numbers, this is true. The legendary witch hysterias in Loudon (France), Trier, Fulda, and Würzburg (Germany), and the Basque Country alone account for a massive proportion of these women witches. During each of these European witch panics, thousands were accused, and hundreds executed. Though the Salem Witch Trials occupy a place of prime importance in witchcraft lore, their 200 accused and 19 executed account for only a small number of early modern witches. These infamous events may have been anomalies in the wider context of witch history, exceptions to the witch trial norm.


Marissa: In other words, this calculation of 75-80% is a very general one that sometimes obscures the fact that sex ratios of witchcraft trials varied wildly depending on time and space. For example, in Iceland, over 90% of accused witches were men while in Basel, Switzerland only 5% were men. And there are more areas with majority-male witch trials than you might think. In early modern Muscovy, the traditional figure is quite literally reversed. About 75-80% of people charged with witchcraft were men. We see similar numbers in Estonia, the region of Normandy in France, and Finland which was a part of Sweden until 1809. Though the percentages are not quite as high as in Muscovy and Iceland, still the majority of tried witches in parts of Germany, the Baltic and the French region of Burgundy were men.


Marissa: Areas with high proportions of male witches certainly do tend to overlap with areas where pagan heresy was a problem. Much of peripheral Europe was converted to Christianity quite late and therefore dealt with efforts to stamp out pagan heresy that continued into the modern period. But even a cursory review of witchcraft trials in areas like Finland, Iceland, and Muscovy challenges this idea. Finnish historian Marko Nenonen found that on the whole, Finnish witches facing charges for maleficium were more often men. Finnish women were more often brought on charges related to benevolent magic, such as love potions, or mystical charms. Based on his careful consideration of the stats, however, Nenonen argues that benevolent magic and maleficium were practiced equally by both men and women.


Marissa: So, does this mean that diabolical magic is gendered female Maybe. Another argument deployed in the canon of witchcraft history to explain away male witches was that male witches were not accused of diabolical witchcraft, especially the sexual aspects of diabolical witchcraft. The idea is that only women were vulnerable to accusations of this particular genre of witchcraft because of their susceptible positions in the patriarchy.


Elizabeth: Though the man-witch-related-to-women-witch theory originated in the colonial American context, it is often applied carelessly to European contexts. Even famous and celebrated historians of the old guard have been found to be guilty of committing this historical gaffe. Three incredibly influential historians of witchcraft: Alan Macfarlane, Marianne Hester, and Joseph Klaits used Assize Records from Essex, England in order to shore up the argument that male witches were unintended casualties of misogynist witch-hunts.


Elizabeth: In fact, some cases resembled the theory but in reverse. In July 1560, John Samond of Essex was charged with bewitching (to death) Antony Graunte and Bridget Pecocke. His indictment does not stand out from those of the female witches. It reads:


Elizabeth: The historical record is filled with examples of male witches whose undoing can be attributed to their failure to achieve masculine standards of conduct. For example, in Finland in 1693, two men accused each other of witchcraft in a protracted case that vacillated in and out of the Finnish court system for 5 years. Heikki Janckari and Risto Olavinpoika accused each other of bewitching to death a young male relative. On the face of it, Risto was at a disadvantage in this stand-off. He had a reputation for being a witch who was known to spoil the brew of a local burger, and to use magic to stop the spread of a cattle infection, and to increase crop yield. In the 1680s, Risto had been tried for witchcraft and would be tried again after this court battle with Heikki. So, if anyone was going to be successfully prosecuted as a witch, most people would have put their money on Risto.


These are all masculine anxieties and anxieties about masculinity. And, far from an attack on a marginal, powerless figure, this is an attack on someone who held a powerful (albeit negative) hold over the Springfield community. He was a threat BECAUSE of his male-ness, not in spite of it. Scholars have generally just accepted female witches as the RULE and done what they could to explain away the male exceptions. Instead of looking at the varied and ranging evidence as a whole and crafting an interpretation that accommodates it all.


The idea that those accused of witchcraft were midwives or herbalists, and especially that they were midwives possessed of feminine expertise that threatened male authority, is a myth. Midwives were rarely accused. Instead, they were more likely to work side by side with the accusers to help them to identify witch marks. These were marks on the body believed to indicate that an individual was a witch (not to be confused with the marks scratched or carved on buildings to ward off witches).


Old poor women, as the most marginalised members of society, were most often accused of witchcraft (Bailey, 2013, p. 150). This is because older, widowed women could be seen as a drain on society. Of the hundreds and thousands of witches killed, it has been estimated that between 75 and 90 per cent were female. However, the proportion of male witches convicted of witchcraft differed considerably across different parts of Europe (Brauner, 2001, p. 5; Rowlands, 2009, pp. 6-7). Martin Luther translated the Vulgate Bible in 1529, which changed the masculine maleficos to the feminine maleficas. Erik Midelfort was certain that this change in translation contributed to the concentrated attack on female witches during the late sixteenth century (Midelfort, 2013, p.14). The beginning of the witch hunts saw slightly more males charged than women (Brauner, 2001, p. 6).


In the four centuries from 1400 to 1800, several European and North American societies were troubled by the spectre of the witch (Levack, 1995). The persecution of accused witches in Europe resulted in the trial and sometimes torture and execution of tens of thousands of victims, about 80 per cent of whom were women (Levack, 1995: 21-26). This has left witchcraft scholars asking, 'why women', a question to which there is still no answer, despite over forty years of witchcraft studies. The infamous witchcraft treatise Malleus Maleficarum (1486), written by Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer (alias Institoris), is often blamed for this startling figure (Brauner, 1995). The Malleus was published around thirty times between 1486 and 1669 and was, by contemporary standards, a bestseller in Germany and later in France (Behringer and Jerouschek, 2000: 9). Although not directly responsible for witchcraft trials, the Malleus had a significant impact on the intellectual history of witchcraft. Demonologists like Johannes Nider had already posited the susceptibility of women to witchcraft in the early fifteenth century, but the Malleus was the first text to argue this point so virulently and with reference to sources outside of typical scholastic arguments, such as popular belief and personal experience (Bailey, 2002). However, this text is deeply misunderstood outside of witchcraft studies, despite the treatise's approach to female religious transgression affecting contemporary understandings of femininity in Germanic and later Francophone parts of early modern Europe.


After the publication of the Malleus, details surrounding Kramer's career as inquisitor of witches are less clear. Although it appears he had success in 1488 in Trier and Metz, and again in Nuremberg in 1491, it appears that Jacob Sprenger silenced him, at least in Germany (Jerouschek, 1991). Sprenger obtained permission upon his promotion in 1487 to release the adversus m[agistrum] Henricum Institoris inquistorem (against Master Heinrich Kramer, inquisitor), defaming the inquisitor, and stopping his German career. Sprenger's denouncement did not quench Kramer's inquisitorial zeal as he eventually found other heresies to exterminate across Europe (Behringer, 2001). After Sprenger died in 1495, Kramer reappeared in the late 1490s and early 1500s documenting the miracles of Italian female mystics and toiling against the Bohemian Brethren heresy in Moravia before dying himself in 1505 (Herzig, 2010). 59ce067264






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